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Skaters ready to take on Team USA at JGP Final

U.S. skaters makes up the biggest field in Gdansk

With Doug Razzano's silver in Sheffield, the U.S. won at least one medal at each JGP stop.
With Doug Razzano's silver in Sheffield, the U.S. won at least one medal at each JGP stop. (Paul Tortland)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(12/06/2007) - Team USA is once again the biggest field of skaters at the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) final in Gdansk, Poland. Five ladies, five men, two pairs teams and two dance teams will represent the USA in Poland. Last year, the young U.S. skaters swept the gold medals at the Junior final in Sofia, Bulgaria. This year, there are many new faces in the final as the next generation of juniors has stepped up.

The strong U.S. team hopes to repeat last year's success.

Mirai Nagasu tops the Junior Grand Prix standings in the ladies. The current World junior silver medalist won her two events in Lake Placid and Croatia. Yuki Nishino of Japan and Chrissy Hughes (who is not related to Sarah and Emily Hughes) took two gold medals on the series as well. Rachael Flatt comes with one gold and one silver medal from the series to Gdansk. Alexe Gilles and Kristine Musademba qualified with a silver and fourth place finish for the final. Jenni Vähämaa (Finland) and Svetlana Issakova (Estonia) represent the up and coming skating schools from northern Europe in the final. All eight ladies compete for the first time in the final, and some of them even competed in their first Junior Grand Prix season.

Brandon Mroz dominated the junior circuit, and was the only man to win two events on his way to the final. Mroz, who placed second at the Junior final last year and fourth at Junior Worlds, has given strong performances in Vienna, Austria and in Chemnitz. The only other skater who competed at the Junior final before is Austin Kanallakan, who qualified with a gold in Croatia and a silver in Lake Placid. Kanallakan finished 8th at the final last year, and was a silver medalist in 2005. All the others are newcomers. Adam Rippon earned a gold in Romania and a silver in Bulgaria on the series, Armin Mahbanoozadeh was first in Lake Placid and third in Zagreb, Doug Razzano was fourth in Tallinn, Estonia and second in Sheffield.

Razzano originally was a substitute for the final, he became eligible when Russia's Artem Borodulin withdrew due to a broken ankle. Two Russians and one Chinese round out the Men in Gdansk. Artur Gatchinski is the youngest male competitor at just 14-years-old. He qualified with a silver medal from Tallinn and fourth place from Chemnitz. Ivan Bariev got two silver medals in Romania and Croatia. Jinlin Guan is the only representative of Asia in the men's event. He won the Junior Grand Prix in Estonia and finished second to Mroz in Austria.

While the U.S. skaters dominate the singles categories, the Russians defended their traditionally strong position in the pairs and got four teams into the final: Vera Bazarova and Juri Larionov, Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov, Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternykh and Anastasia Khodkov and Pavel Sliusarenko. Bazarova and Larionov are the top ranked team after winning in Sheffield and finishing second in Chemnitz. Krasilnikova and Bezmaternykh were a close second last year in the final to Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker (USA), who moved up to seniors this season. Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss and Bianca Butler and Joseph Jacobse are the two US pair teams in the competition. Paetsch and Nuss were only fifth in Lake Placid, but got into the final after winning their second event in Germany. Butler and Jacobson qualified with a fourth place finish in the USA, and a fifth place in Germany. Canada and China are both sending one couple to Poland. Yue Zhang and Lei Wang claimed two bronze medals on the circuit, while Amanda Velenosi and Mark Fernandez were second in Estonia and fourth in Great Britain.

The dance competition features eight teams from five countries. After taking the silver medal last year in the final, Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates are hoping to step on to the top of the podium this year. However, two newcomers in the final are also aiming at the top spot: Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier from Canada won their two events, like did Samuelson and Bates, and Russia's Ksenia Monko and Ilia Tkatchenko, who were first in Great Britain and second to the Americans in Austria. Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein made it to the final in their first year on the junior circuit with a gold medal from Tallinn, and a fourth place in Chemnitz. Two more couples come from Russia: Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov, who placed fourth at Junior Worlds and at the final last year; and newcomers Ekaterina Riazanova and John Guerreiro. Italy's Isabella Pajardi and Stefano Caruso and Alisa Agafonova and Dmitri Dun of the Ukraine will compete in their first Junior final. Agafonova and Dun replace Canada's Joanna Lenko and Mitchell Islam, who withdrew due to health problems.